Ranj Pillai, minister of energy, mines and resources, on June 20. Following question period on Oct. 2, Pillai said that proposed amendments to the Quartz Mining Act may never come to fruition. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Quartz Mining Act changes may never come: Pillai

Proposed amendments to the Quartz Mining Act may never come to fruition, Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai said Oct. 2.

Pillai told the media following question period in the legislature that if the changes were to go ahead, it would require further deliberations with affected parties.

The proposed amendments include bolstering reconciliation with First Nations by, in essence, giving them potentially more vetting power, in terms of who can and can’t stake a claim, according to a letter from the department to the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

“This could in turn provide for additional opportunities, through partnerships and good working relationships, for First Nations and industry to benefit from access to land and minerals currently unavailable for development,” the letter, dated July 6, 2018, says.

The delay, Pillai said, was in response to “very explicit” feedback gathered during a 45-day consultation period over the summer.

There were 21 responses during the engagement process, according to the government’s website, including First Nations and industry representatives.

According to an engagement report released last month, First Nations said they should have been involved at an earlier stage during the process. First Nations also said that had amendments gone forward they would have impacted Indigenous and treaty rights.

Responses from the public and stakeholders included in that document show concern about giving First Nations too much power in the matter — that “reconciliation with First Nations often comes at a cost to the mining industry,” it says.

“We wanted to test the waters to see if this was a place we should go,” Pillai said. “Certainly it says we shouldn’t at this particular time. We heard that there’s lots of work to be done before that legislation should ever go forward.”

“I’m listening. We committed to listening, and that’s what I’m doing,” Pillai said, noting that if proposed amendments were to be tabled in the future, the government would “of course” discuss it with industry groups.

Samson Hartland, executive director with the Yukon Chamber of Mines, says he appreciates that Pillai is being considerate.

“We’re pleased that we’ve all been heard loud and clear,” he said.

“The concern at the time (during the summer),” Hartland said, “was the potential for any type of erosion of the open entry system as we know it. The open entry system gives anybody the opportunity to find the next mother load. It’s important we remain that beacon of leadership.”

Hartland said that a letter sent to stakeholders didn’t provide a fulsome look at the proposed amendments to sufficiently comment on them.

“We had to rely on the interpretation in the letter and, based on that, we definitely had concerns on how it was interpreted,” he said.

“It referred to being able to limit who could prospect for minerals, and that for us set off some concerns, for sure, with our membership,” he said, noting that those who wished to stake a claim would have to be vetted depending on the parcel in question.

In a written statement, Briar Young, director of strategic alliances at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, said that without the amendments “the mining industry would not have the opportunity to develop collaborative partnerships with First Nations to enable the exploration and development of mineral resources in areas that are withdrawn from mineral staking.

“This could have helped contribute to building capacity within First Nation businesses and individuals so that the skills and experience gained through the new partnership could be applied to other employment opportunities throughout the Yukon.”

Contact Julien Gignac at

julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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